For today’s Author Spotlight, I am chatting with author, illustrator, and fine artist Marisa Aragón Ware about her debut picture book, Bodhi Sees The World: Thailand. This wonderful picture book follows a young girl as she travels to Thailand and experiences the world through a new culture.
Marissa, thank you so much for joining me today! I’m so excited to talk to you about Bodhi Sees The World. But before we get into it, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My love for art and my love for nature have always been interwoven, and both were sparked early in my life. Having been born and raised in Colorado, I garnered a deep appreciation of the natural world from a childhood spent enveloped in the forests of the Rocky Mountains. My family lived in a house close to miles upon miles of hiking trails, and our expansive backyard was a world of magic unto itself. I played out amidst the rocks and trees and painted wildflowers on the back deck for hours during the summer, and my mother always made sure I had art supplies on hand. My father is a scientist and he taught me the names of plants and how to gently catch and release snakes in the garden. In this way, I cultivated a sense of awe and appreciation for the world around me, and I learned how to pay attention and notice the endlessly fascinating details of nature.
These formative experiences heavily influence my work to this day, and I strive to depict the beauty of the natural world to help others connect with its abundant primordial magic. My work often explores the ephemeral and impermanent nature of life as well as the cyclical nature of death and rebirth. I work in a variety of mediums, including pen and ink, paper sculpture, and digital media, but I also occasionally work as a tattoo artist as well. I wear a lot of different hats in my career as a professional artist— I exhibit my work as a fine artist in galleries across the country, I freelance as a commercial illustrator, I write and illustrate children’s books, and I am also a professor teaching art and illustration. I even competed on (and won!) a reality tv show called “Meet Your Makers” on Discovery Plus in 2021.
When I’m not working, these days I like to spend my free time teaching myself to play piano, learning French, going for runs in the woods with my dog, taking care of my multitude of house plants, and cooking and eating delicious vegan food.
What inspired you to write about Thailand specifically?
The inspiration to write about Thailand was multilayered. I knew I wanted to write about a country that is primarily Buddhist because I wanted to share the teachings of the dharma with the young people of this world. Lessons about loving-kindness, compassion, generosity, and open-heartedness are so important for all of us, and they can be taught in such simple and accessible ways. A person is never too young or too old to have these teachings touch their heart and open their mind.
When thinking about what countries I could write about, I thought back to a month-long trip I took to Thailand in my early twenties. I traveled from the very southern tip of the country to the northernmost region, and stopped at Bangkok in between. I got to see the Emerald Buddha, the Royal Palace, the floating market, and many of the other sites that I wrote about in the book. I was so touched by the friendliness and warmth of the Thai people, and I’ll never forget the incredible flavors of the food there. Inspired by these memories, I began to explore the idea of writing about Thailand, and then the story began to take shape.
Title: Bodhi Sees The World: Thailand
Author/Illustrator: Marisa Aragón Ware
Publisher: Bala Kids
Published: September 21, 2021
Format: Picture Book
What was the research process like for writing Bodhi See The World?
I did a lot of research about Thailand because my editors and I wanted this book to be very educational. I was extremely fortunate to have three friends help me in this process. Prang, who is from Thailand but now lives in Colorado, helped me immensely with generating ideas about where Bodhi could visit and the important aspects of Thai culture to try and communicate through the story. Min and Alan, two friends who live in Bangkok (Min is Thai and Alan is an ex-pat American) proofread the book many times and helped me with all of the translations. Without Prang, Alan, and Min, I wouldn’t have been able to have all of the Thai writing found throughout the book, so I am very grateful to them for their help.
I love the illustrations. Can you talk about the medium/techniques you use to create the images?
The illustrations were done entirely digitally, on my iPad Pro with an app called Procreate. It’s a really wonderful and versatile app. I took inspiration from illustrator Steph Fizer Coleman, who also works a lot in Procreate. I try to have my digital work still have a hand-drawn feel, so I use a lot of different textures to add to the visual richness of the imagery.
As an artist, you work with pen and ink, digital mediums, sculpture, and even tattoos. Do you ever find that your work with one medium impacts or affects your projects in another?
The mediums and styles I work in are all so distinct and different from each other that there’s not a lot of crossover, although I would say that what remains consistent throughout is my obsession with detail and precision. I would love to be the type of artist who paints with loose, bold strokes and makes expressive non-representational paintings, but my natural inclination is towards tiny details and the pursuit of perfection, whatever that might be.
What’s next for Bodhi? Can we expect to see her explore other countries?
I would love for Bodhi to have more adventures! I really enjoyed making this first book, and I learned so much about Thailand, that it would be lovely if there was a second and maybe even third. We’ll see!
And how about for yourself? Do you have any exciting projects coming up?
At the moment, I am putting most of my time into teaching, which is very exciting in its own way. I really love mentoring young artists, and I get so much inspiration from their enthusiasm. Later this year I am taking a break from being a professor, and am going to focus my time on creating work for fine art galleries. I have many ideas that I want to explore, which include making wearable paper sculptures and integrating more technology, like laser cutting and 3D printing, into my fine art production.
Anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?
If you enjoyed Bodhi, my publisher, Bala Kids, has so many more wonderful books! Some of my favorites include “Afraid of the Light,” and “I Am Thinking My Life.” You can order them straight from the publisher or on Amazon (or check with your local bookstore).
To learn more about Marisa and her work, visit her website at www.marisaware.com.